How Telstra is preparing for the future of work

There’s lots of talk about the ‘Workforce of Tomorrow’, but just how far away is it?

Telstra’s Group Executive – Transformation and People, Alex Badenoch, believes the future is now. The landscape is already evolving and she says there’s no time like the present to prepare for what’s ahead.

Already we’re seeing automation and artificial intelligence improving efficiencies and reducing the risks of error. But the speed of change, believes Badenoch, means it’s the employer, not the employee, which is most under threat.

She says employers haven’t kept pace with the momentum and it’s created a skills deficit.

In Telstra’s Telecommunications industry, traditional core engineers are showing signs of waning demand, yet software-defined network engineering is growing two-fold every year –but there is no supply.  Of the seven top skills Telstra needs, only 0-2% of the global supply is Australian-based.

It’s not always practical, desirable or achievable to bring in talent from overseas, but there are other ways to achieve the same goal if you think creatively, says Badenoch.

“At Telstra we have IT and engineering teams that are located across various geographies who have to be able to work in a very virtual way,” she says.

“We have Agile teams that do their stand-ups with screens all sitting there talking to each other virtually, in what is normally a highly-intensive co-located way, but doing it in a virtual presence set-up.”

Start planning now

Mapping out a detailed five-year workforce strategy with what skills are going to decline, what ones will grow, and how the phasing will look over time, has been an important process for Telstra.

Badenoch says it’s helped the corporation manage competing and contradictory events.

“We’ve got parts of our business where we’re managing a big decline in workforce that we can see over coming years and we have to think about either how we help those people transition, or if we use that as a supply pool that we can start training now for what we’re going to need somewhere else in three to five years.”

The other side of the picture is to manage those parts of the business where massive growth curves are evident but the supply bucket is empty. Having a strategy means reassessing the employment brand and identifying other ways of accessing those skills.

“Most HR teams have talked for a long time about ‘build, buy, borrow’,” says Badenoch, “We have ‘build, buy, borrow, bot’.”

“We talk about what we can automate and where we can use different forms of artificial intelligence to fill talent or supply gaps.”

Telstra now has a comprehensive three-year plan to help it understand where the reductions will happen, where the growth will occur and how it will fill those capabilities.

Narrow your focus

Badenoch is also Telstra’s Group Executive of HR. She suggests instead of trying to be all servicing, HR teams should hone in on the things that will differentiate them, and be strategic imperatives for the business.

“Understand the skills that matter because, as much as it might be unpopular, not all skills are created equal.”

In her mind, soft skills that are difficult to automate – such as creativity, innovation and judgment - will become critical. It’s an area she’d love employers to take seriously and invest more heavily in.

“When we look at who’s successful, it’s not always the smartest person in the room, or the person who has got the most experience,” says Badenoch. “It’s often the person who has an ability to take information data and apply judgment. Judgement’s really important.”

She says there’s a tendency within organisations to promote, value and retain technical skills, at the expense of the soft skills. Where businesses do train for softer skills, the systems and processes are not changed to allow those skills to flourish.

“We’ve said to people ‘be empowered and innovate, and then everything we’ve put around them from an organisational point of view tells them not to do that.

“For the future of work you have to go back to people, process and system and you’ve got to change them all if you’re really going to amplify the importance and acceleration of development of soft skills.”

Change your mindset

If you don’t want to be left behind, Badenoch says you must be ready to embrace new ways of working, and new ways of leading.

The changing landscape of work

The traditional corporate mindset of what employment looks like is being challenged, says Badenoch. As employees demand more say in where, how and when they work, leaders need to be prepared for a workforce that mixes transient, fixed and partner arrangements. Look at where can you partner with others who have a more abundant supply of skills than you do.

Reconsider what you value

Invest more heavily in the soft skills that will differentiate you from your competitors, says Badenoch. She believes agility of mindset will be key – are your employees able to keep growing and learning? Do they bring a mindset that is open and able to look at issues from different perspectives?

“I think what we assess is going to change,” she says. “It’s not going to be your list of competencies it once was, it will be far more about the core ingredients of a human being and making sure you’re hiring people with the right ingredients. Because if you do that, everything works from there.”

Discard the boxes

Are you innovative enough to see people in a different light to way you’ve boxed them in? Badenoch urges HR professionals to be brave enough to consider the skills and capabilities people have and to try transitioning them into roles you may not have previously considered.

She says there’s some fantastic examples of where people displaced from admin roles have been retrained to be scrum masters in Agile teams. A scrum master is the person responsible for maintaining communication and co-ordination between a collaborative software development team and the product owner.

“The scrum master doesn’t need the technical skill,” says Badenoch, “it has a very different purpose. Many people who’ve had roles in organisations that may be highly at risk from an evolving workforce actually display many of those soft skills we’re trying to teach our technical people to have.”

The role of HR right now is crucial, says Badenoch. You have to truly understand the skill supply and demands ahead, which ones will drive your organisation and how your future workplace will look. The danger, she says, is staying stuck in the traditional mindset – do that and you will miss many opportunities to take you forward.

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Belinda Parkes

Belinda Parkes is a freelance journalist and sub-editor with more than 20 years’ media experience across newspapers, magazines and digital media. Belinda has had a love affair with words from a young age, having written a song at age five, a...

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